Dowling Theatre

2110 Dowling Street,
Houston, TX 77003

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Denalano on March 11, 2017 at 9:47 pm

I will never forget watching Spartacus at the Dowling. Kirk Douglas was attacked by a hawk and lost an eye. That was the coolest scene ever. It must have been 1960. I was about 7 years old and walked there with a friend from alameda and palm street. I eventually bumped into Mr. Douglas when I was a sailor aboard the USS Nimitz when he was filming The Final Countdown. He said “yo” to me!!!!

fs805 on May 24, 2013 at 6:21 am

The photo of the interior of the Dowling theater with the balcony as described earlier has been posted. If you look carefully, on the left, you can see the rail going up to the balcony. There is a similar set of stairs on the right, but is washed out in this photo. You can see the aisle on the right.

The projection booth was generally entered on the left side of this photo. The two projectors projected their images through the two lower openings on the right. The two openings diagonally above and to the left were used by the projectionist when starting the next projector.

If you compare the photo I’ve posted with the photos available at and notice that the interior has walls that are offset every so many feet. You will also see the emergency exit on the right side when looking from the stage/screen where this interior photo was taken.

When you look at the photos (3rd & 4th) from the above link, you will notice the exterior walls are slightly offset that is consistent with the interior photo. Compare the edge with the sky. You can also see the physical change in the construction material of the wall.

If you look carefully at the last photo, you can see a hole in the wall on the left side when looking from the non stage/screen end of the theater. This is consistent with the placement of the emergency exit as seen in the posted photo.

Generally at the Dowling theater, the “Front” of the theater was considered the screen end while the back was the entrance to the auditorium. I guess the assumption was that you face forward to the front, the screen.

fs805 on March 19, 2013 at 10:46 pm

The drug store was Wooten’s. They had a great grill too. I used to get hamburgers there while spending the day at the Dowling theater with my dad.

Between the theater and the drug store was Howard Young’s radio and TV shop/store.

The only reason I mentioned the 60’s dates, I don’t agree with the statement that the theater closed in 1955.

If you have any additional questions, ask. I’m getting forgetful. I went to Blackshear, then Yates.

On that side of Dowling, the theater was the center of activity. For a while, a Taylor shop (Kyle’s) on the left and to the left of that Taube’s variety store for a while. I also worked in the variety store during the holidays putting toys together.

At the end of the block, the theater had a very large billboard on the side of the building used to advertise coming attractions.

At one time the theater used a flatbed truck with a Bogen amplifier that could be powered by AC or directly off of the truck battery. It had a turntable on top for playing 78 rpm records. This truck was used to drive down the streets advertising coming attractions.

I remember this because I’ve always been interested in “technology” stuff and I was impressed and my dad was proud that they had this for advertising. The speakers were by University. This was the first time I had ever seen outdoor speakers up close.

This reminds me, my dad said that at one time they had stage shows at the Dowling after the movie at night. The movies usually ended between 10:30 and 11:30. Going to midnight was very unusual.

ronluck707 on March 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

The Dowling theater was destroyed by a homeless teenage arsonist about 1962-1964. I also want to use 1960 -1964. This statement i stand on and is correct. the guy was apprehended, photoed in the chronical or maybe the Houston Post at the time. My vague memory is thinking he was living inside the theater after closing and was discovered. A statement by the arsonist at best i can remember to news paper was that he was homeless and had no place to stay. he became revenguful and set theater on fire. Also my vague memory is telling me we went to same school Dodson elementry. Just for record i reside at the end Gray street and railroad tracks across from Dodson elementry.

fs805 on March 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I think the Dowling theater closed in the early to mid 60s. I left Houston for school in ‘59 and my dad was back as a part time manager. During this time, he also operated some service stations. He had some of the service station credit card charges in the manager’s office.

I remember him telling me that he asked one of the firemen if they could retrieve the charge invoices so that he would not suffer the loss. They did. I was in school at the time so this would have been in the 60s.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on March 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

As we are pretty sure the Dowling Theatre had a balcony, I am wondering if the photograph of the auditorium could be the smaller Park Theatre, which was also an African-American theatre, opened around 1939 on Dowling Street? It has its own page on Cinema Treasures.

fs805 on March 12, 2013 at 7:01 am

The opening date of the Dowling theater can be narrowed down. Growing up, I was told that when my dad, at work at the theater, was told I had been born he ran through the theater shouting “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” This would mean the theater was open by mid June 1941, based on my birthday.

ronluck707 on March 11, 2013 at 11:22 am

The Dowling theater did have a upstairs balcony and also the theater was destroyed by teenage arsonist.

fs805 on March 10, 2013 at 10:29 am

fs805 fs805 on March 10, 2013 at 10:16 am (remove)

I question the statement that the Dowling theater closed in 1955. I was still in Houston until 1959 and it was open. My dad was part time manager even after I went to school in ‘59. It was some time in the early to mid 60s that it closed. He would tell me various things about how he was managing the theater part time as well as his business.

There were several theaters serving the African American community. The Dowling was one and it opened in 1941.

Whatever book had that statistics you mention about the closing and the interior photo do not agree with my experience and memories. I know memories can play tricks, but having had the opportunity to attend the theater every Saturday to see the cowboy westerns and the serials that ran 8 – 16 weeks, those are experiences that are indelibly engrained in my memory. I will resume the quest to find the interior picture of the Dowling theater. Please accept the fact from a person that has had first hand experience in the dowling theater, that it had a balcony. Any photo that does not show the interior with a balcony, is not the interior of the Dowling theater. It would be useful to know how the photo being represented at the interior of the Dowling theater was believed to be the Dowling theater and not some other theater. If hauled in to court and sworn to tell the truth, I would state unequivocally that the photo represented on this site is not the interior of the Dowling theater. I cannot tell you what theater it is, but I can tell you it is not the Dowling theater.

fs805 on March 3, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I was unable to find the link you referenced. However, the Dowling Theater had a balcony. It was the first Afro American theater in Houston to have one. I remember my dad mentioning this as one of the features that distinguished it from the others. I’m still looking for a photo that may exist of the first night it opened. It is an interior of the auditorium. I saw it as a kid. I have one of my dad greeting the first two patrons. However it does not show the interior with the balcony. The photo published here clearly does not have a balcony.

fs805 on February 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I do not think the photo of the interior of the auditorium is from the Dowling Theater. My dad managed the theater from 1941 until the mid 50’s. He passed last year (2012). As a kid I was there quite frequently. Looking toward the projection room, there was a balcony. The main auditorium had 3 sections, right, center and left. On the two sides, there were 6 – 8 seats, as best I can guess 50+ years later. However, to enter the balcony, you could walk in on either the right or left side of the auditorium, under the balcony through curved corridors to keep the light out and go up stars going to either side of the balcony.

The theater entrance was under the projection booth. When you walked in on the right as you faced the theater from the street, the candy case (concessions) was just as you entered. The manager’s office was in the center under the balcony.

Later the theater was renovated to accommodate CinemaScope and the manager’s office was moved to the right of the entrance, the box office moved from the center as seen in the 1941 photo, to inside the main building on the right. The box office was entered through the manager’s office. This change cut down on having the person selling tickets in the open. Someone once threw a brick through the glass windows of the box office. The spire on the end of the marque was added during the renovation.

The concession area was moved to the center where the office had been.

The rest rooms were on either side as you entered, men – right, women – left.

My recollection was the theater was owned by Herman Cohen who also owned Cohen Lumber Yard in Houston. He had a son a year or so older than me and I would receive his hand me down clothes. Who ever heard of an Afro American kid wearing Knickers? I did until I could convenience my parents these were not cool. I think the theater was later sold to his son-in-law Harold Freeman.

I used to hang around in the projection booth. There were two Simplex projectors. Each projector used 4 Tungar rectifiers to power the carbon arc for the projection image. I was told it would run on 3, in case one burned out during use. The projection booth also has a toilet to make it self contained. There were special linkages on shutters to close off the booth in case of a fire.

When the theater was renovated for CinemaScope the tungar rectifiers were replaced with selenium rectifiers. Additional equipment was added to read the magnetic strips on the film for stereo. Prior to this, the tracks were optical.

I’ve still got a used sprocket from one of the projectors.

I hope this adds a bit to the history of the Dowling Theater.

If there are any specific questions, I’ll do my best to answer.

ronluck707 on November 25, 2012 at 11:27 am

The theater was destory by fire. My best guest about 1962-1964. the person was a homeless teenager that started the fire. i think he was a teen from third ward at best what i can remember. He was apprended and photo in local news paper.

kencmcintyre on March 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Here are interior and exterior photos circa 1963, from the Houston Public Library: